Germany is going full steam ahead on critical railway improvements

To make railways an attractive alternative, Germany is ramping up efforts to implement an optimised timetable and upgrade heavily used lines
The Frankfurt train station | Photo: Adobe stock

By Volker Wissing

Volker Wissing is Transport Minister of Germany

25 Oct 2022

I am convinced that, in the 21st century, rail will be the preferred mode of transport in Europe. In Germany, we are working towards attractive and climate-neutral railways by creating better coordinated trains, shorter travel and transport times, more capacity and greater reliability.

Establishing a Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) – a project we are expressly in favour of – is key to the success of the European railways. We have recently decided to rehabilitate the heavily used lines in Germany, which include also the TEN-T corridors.

For example, Deutsche Bahn AG will start with a general upgrade of the critical Riedbahn line between Frankfurt and Mannheim, which is part of the highly congested Rhine-Alpine corridor from Rotterdam to Genoa. If something fails here, it has national and international consequences.

For the upgrade, Deutsche Bahn is applying a new model aimed at ensuring far more reliable network conditions. To minimise the impact on rail transport operations, construction works will be pooled more effectively. Instead of first exchanging the switches on a route, renewing the catenary six months later and the sleepers the following year, all construction work will be carried out at the same time. Consequently, certain components might be exchanged slightly before the end of their life cycle.

To minimise the impact on rail transport operations, construction works will be pooled more effectively

We do not only want to fix the network but also increase its capacity. Instead of simply upgrading a signal box, it may be possible to digitise it. The same applies to lines which need to be equipped with the digital ETCS.

The idea is that once a line has been upgraded, operations can run trouble-free for the years ahead. This would also benefit the TEN-T corridors in our neighbouring countries.

One thing is certain: we do not have any time to waste.

We have set ourselves extremely ambitious goals to achieve climate change targets: by 2030, the number of rail travellers is to be doubled, and one in four freight operations is to be carried out by rail.

To make the railways an attractive alternative, we are stepping up our efforts to implement the Deutschlandtakt, our nationwide integrated regular interval timetable that will benefit both passenger and freight transport.

The Deutschlandtakt represents a paradigm shift. Instead of first constructing and then developing a timetable which can be implemented with the existing infrastructure, we are now doing it the other way round. First, an optimised timetable is drawn up, and then the necessary infrastructure is built. Ideally, in the future, all trains will meet regularly at train stations so that changing trains becomes significantly easier.

By 2030, the number of rail travellers is to be doubled, and one in four freight operations is to be carried out by rail

Besides construction projects, the Deutschlandtakt also foresees making better use of the existing infrastructure by systematising train paths. Just by managing them digitally, we can increase capacity in the network by up to three per cent and speed up journey times in rail freight transport by up to five per cent. While this may not sound too impressive at first, we must remember that it would be impossible to achieve the same effects through upgrading and new building schemes, simply because we would not be able to afford it.

What is more, the Deutschlandtakt represents a major step towards an integrated regular interval timetable at the European level, for which I have high hopes. Our proposed concept of the TransEuropExpress 2.0 – or TEE 2.0 for short – points the way. We want to consistently expand cross-border high-speed traffic by linking existing connections and gradually increase the number of night train connections across Europe.

We want to turn free travel across borders by train from vision into reality. Railways connect and unite us. And, today more than ever, Europe needs to be united.